Jeremy Eaton: Firstly, congratulations on the finished MPavilion! I walk past it everyday and the colours and shape of the pavilion are striking in its setting of the Queen Victoria Gardens. Given the colours were one of the first things I noticed, I thought we could start there. How did all(zone) select the reds, yellows and oranges that make up the different layers of the pavilion?
Rachaporn Choochuey: The colours of the waffle structure on the underside of the pavilion were actually limited by the availability of fabrics that met architectural codes and regulations. We preferred to use warmer colours rather than the cold tones that were available. So yellow, orange and red were first selected for the waffle, then we made the fishing net, which is the outer layer of the pavilion, to match that scheme.
JE: It is a similar happy accident to your installation Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun shown at the Sharjah Architecture Triennale that seemed to perfectly integrate with the muted tones of the surrounding architecture, yet as you have said, while it seemed intentional, the colour was actually dictated by the available materials. Through projects like the Sharjah installation you have repeatedly integrated soft architectural features into your structures, including fabric and recycled plastic for instance. What have you found these materials allow in comparison to other, more traditional, architectural materials? And could you talk a little bit about the various materials used in the roof of MPavilion?
RC: Utilising fabric all began with us doing our first exhibition design with a low budget. So we employed fabric to gain maximum volume with minimal resources. Light materials also allow us to touch, feel and understand the behaviour of the material with our hands, which you don't have the opportunity to do with common architectural materials such as bricks, concrete, glass or even wood.
In MPavilion, we use polyester fishing net as the top roof later because of its flexibility and transparency, which allows the environment to blend in with the body of the pavilion. The middle roof layer is a rain-proof, tensile structure of STFE (Outer surface : Transparent hybrid fluoropolymer, Inner surface : polyarylate mesh), a very new and innovative fabric that allows more than 50% of light to go through. It is the first time that the material has been used in Australia, and MPavilion is possibly the third building in the world that has used it. Then at the ceiling level we have a waffle structure, which diffuses the sunlight and provides movement by responding to wind and air flow. We used a vinyl mesh (vinyl-coated high-tenacity polyester), which is a common material for interior and exterior blinds.
JE: All of the different layers you describe and the structural design for MPavilion seem to be a mixture of some of your more permanent architectural projects with some of your ephemeral festival or biennale works. The waffle ceiling for instance calls to mind all(zone) projects such as Marmalade Sky for the Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand (2018). What challenges and opportunities were afforded by the MPavilion format?
RC: MPavilion has two lives: one at Queen Victoria Gardens for four months with very intensive public programs. Then another life when it is relocated and is expected to last for twenty years. For its first life, having to consider all of the practical issues to house events already makes the pavilion more complex than a building. Because it is an outdoor, minimum form structure, we have had to make the most out of less. In our previous ephemeral installations, all these practical issue were not the main concern. So MPavilion was an opportunity for us to push the boundary of light materials and construction further. The three roof layers, for example, allow us to have a rain proof and cooler shaded environment suitable to house more serious activities. So it is no longer something in between an installation and architecture as our projects were in the past, it is a building!
JE: You talk about a huge hole in architecture being the materials that are being used and their sustainability. Do you see uses of different fabrics in architecture as a possible solution to some sustainability issues, or are there other materials that architects and designers should be exploring?
RC: After working for more than a year on MPavilion, indeed, we found a big limit in architectural fabrics—only few manufacturers that are not yet sustainable productions. We wanted to use recycled, more organic, home grown materials, but none of them exist. We thought that to apply more ‘light’ materials such as fabric in architecture would bring us out of a ‘heavy and sturdy’ architecture mode, which would eventually lead to more adaptive and sustainable practices. We are not particularly limited to fabric, any mode of construction or materials that would allow such a quality, we are ready to jump in and explore.
JE: Finally, what kind of experience are you hoping people to have at MPavilion?
RC: The pavilion should bring joy by being a space where people can come together in public. It is something we missed the feeling of tremendously during lockdown. We want to celebrate our lives with others, even if they are strangers. The colours and the gentle movement of the pavilion will hopefully make people feel at ease and relaxed. Then they could come back, stop by on the way to work (as you could do) to see what is going on casually. In the longer term, we want people to have a fantastic memory of themselves at the pavilion. If in thirty years, a family would show their happy family photo taken at our pavilion that would be the highest point of our expectation!
MPavilion 2022 is open free to the public in the Queen Victoria Gardens, Melbourne, from Thursday 8 December 2022 until Thursday 6 April 2023.